SPREADING THEIR WINGS
Published: Broadsheet, Spring Edition, 2010.
Jeremy Wortsman’s illustration agency, The Jacky Winter Group, and in-house gallery space, Lamington Drive, have defied their humble beginnings to become a hub for some of Australia’s finest creative talent. Now, with a clutch of likeminded businesses in tow, they’re converting their new Collingwood warehouse into one of Melbourne’s genuine creative epicentres. By Dan Rule.
Looking back on it, there was a distinctly aspirational bent to the placard that adorned the diminutive, turn-of-the-century Fitzroy building that, until recently, served as headquarters of The Jacky Winter Group illustration agency and its associated Lamington Drive gallery.
The Compound Interest: Centre for the Applied Arts – it was hard not to chuckle at the grandiosity of the title, especially in comparison to the rickety little space it heralded, jammed between the rear of a shop and a cramped, bluestone back lane on the corner of George and Gertrude Streets.
“It was really a bit of a joke back then,” smiles Jeremy Wortsman, the Melbourne-based New Yorker behind the project. “But now it’s kind of grown into something that’s a lot more real.”
He’s not kidding. Wandering about the vast Keele Street warehouse that now sports The Compound Interest insignia in the weeks before its September 2 launch, the raw multilevel building is a hive of creative spaces and activities.
The new Lamington Drive gallery – a wooden cube, which, like its predecessor, features corner-lit, cardboard-lined walls – and its adjoining, pegboard-walled retail space dominate the building’s eastern entrance, while a staircase at the rear of the warehouse leads to a bright, upstairs studio; a new home to award-winning graphic design company Chase & Galley (which Wortsman originally co-founded with Stuart Geddes) and web-design outfit The Golden Grouse.
“We’re really trying to cover as many aspects of applied art as possible,” explains Wortsman, leading the way to the western span of warehouse, where industrial designer Christian Condo’s Modern Motorcycle Company workshop and showroom adjoin The Jacky Winter Group offices, set in a wooden-walled pod, replete with batting range (“I like hitting things,” he laughs).
“I guess it’s really just an extension of what we were doing at George Street, but just with many more businesses.”
Indeed, The Compound Interest’s initial clutch of ventures is just the beginning. The coming months will see the staggered opening of countless other endeavours in the space, including architects Martyn Hook and Fleur Watson’s design and architecture-focussed Pin-Up Gallery, a full print and framing workshop including and a café with outdoor courtyard. The space will also see a couple of high-profile relocations, with Carolyn Fraser’s internationally renowned Idlewild Press relocating from the Nicholas Building and Ghita Loebenstein’s Speakeasy Cinema project shifting from 1000£ Bend.
It represents something of a first for Melbourne. While the Nicholas Building has long stood as the city’s premier example of a cross-pollinating creative space, the Keele Street warehouse brings with it a genuine curatorial focus. These aren’t just businesses working side-by-side, but businesses working together.
“When we were putting the whole idea together it was really important that all the businesses complimented each other,” says Wortsman, who, after moving to Melbourne in 2001, made a name as a co-founder of cult poster magazine Is Not along with Geddes and writers Penny Modra, Mel Campbell and Natasha Ludowyk.
“It’s the idea that someone might be coming in to meet John upstairs and see a print at Lamington Drive, or someone might be coming to a show at Lamington Drive and might see something else they like. It’s really about that cross-section and making sure we’re all doing really complimentary things.”
But there’s more to The Compound Interest than business opportunity.
“It’s kind just that thing of being able to hang out with your friends,” offers Wortsman. “We’re all likeminded people and we’re all doing stuff, you know. We all spend so much of our lives at work, so why not make work and pleasure the same thing.”
It’s the next phase in what has been a remarkable introduction for Wortsman’s agency. Since launching in October 2007 with an initial stable of 12 illustrators – which included the warped Australiana of Eamo, celebrated watercolour and collage of Kat Macleod, skewed comic humorist Oslo Davis, Dylan Martorell, Tin & Ed and Rik Lee – The Jacky Winter Group has risen to become one of the country’s premier illustration agencies.
In its first three years, the agency has grown to represent a roster of upwards of 40 artists (with the likes of Beci Orpin, Travis Price and Jeremy Dower joining the fray more recently), launched developmental incubator The Hatch, international booking agency Rock of Eye and storyboarding sub-agency The Bowery, taken on several staff, including general manager Matthew Shannon and agency and gallery manager Lara Murray, and procured commissions from a host of domestic and international clients of the ilk of The New York Times, Business Week, GQ, Playboy, Nike, Saatchi & Saatchi, Random House among countless others. Lamington Drive, meanwhile, has risen to become a staple on the Melbourne gallery circuit, hosting several sell-out exhibitions and occupying a gap in the market between fine and commercial art.
It’s a role that Wortsman hopes the gallery, which relaunches with a solo show from inaugural signing Eamo, can continue to develop in the new space. “The retail component is going to be really important because we’re going to be publishing a lot more of our own artist books, working with other independent publishers and stocking their kind of product,” he says. “It’s going to be more of a curated and self-published kind of thing.”
“Lamington Drive always existed to ask that question: what is commercial art? What is a fine art space? How can those two things co-exist? And we hope to keep asking that question.”
That’s not to suggest, however, that the move to the new Compound Interest site has been anything less than a monumental exercise. “Oh man,” he sighs. “We had these lofty ideas that we were going to take over this 10,000 square foot space and do it on the cheap, but you just can’t.”
“We’ve had to be frugal and we’ve had to do things in steps and we’ve had to call in favours.”
And they’re not done yet. “It’s important to tell people that we’re here and we’ve relocated, but that also, things are going to be constantly happening and changing in this space with things like the café and the cinema and other things,” urges Wortsman. “It’s going to be a really staggered thing.”
“I hope that when people come, they can see the potential and keep coming back to see it grow.”
The Compound Interest: Centre for the Applied Arts is located at 15–25 Keele Street, Collingwood.